Ukrainian authorities have uncovered a mass burial site of more than 440 bodies in the eastern town of Izium that has been recaptured from Russian forces, a regional police chief said.
Serhiy Bolvinov, the Kharkiv region’s chief police investigator, told Sky News that some of the people were killed by shelling and airstrikes.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy compared the discovery to what happened in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, saying in a video address on Thursday evening: “Russia leaves death behind everywhere and must be held responsible for it.”
“The necessary steps have already begun there. More information – clear and verifiable information – should be available tomorrow,” he said.
Ukraine and its allies accused Russian forces of committing war crimes in Bucha at the start of the February invasion by Russian forces.
The wealthy suburban town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, is synonymous with Russian war crimes, where hundreds of bodies have been found. After a month of fighting, Bucha was one of the first places Moscow withdrew from to refocus its forces on eastern Ukraine.
Bolvinov said forensic investigations would be carried out on each body.
“I can say that it is one of the greatest burial sites of a great liberated city [areas] … 440 bodies were buried in the same place,” he said. “Some died from artillery fire…some died from airstrikes.”
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense tweeted: “Mass graves are found in Izium after the liberation of the (Russians)” and added that “the current largest burial (site) has 440 unmarked graves”.
An Associated Press reporter saw the site Thursday in a forest outside of Izium. Amidst the trees were hundreds of graves with simple wooden crosses, most marked only with numbers. A larger grave bore a marker indicating that it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Investigators equipped with metal detectors scanned the site for hidden explosives.
Oleg Kotenko, an official with Ukraine’s ministry responsible for reintegrating occupied territories, said videos posted by Russian soldiers on social media indicated there were likely more than 17 bodies in the grave.
“We haven’t counted them yet, but I think there are more than 25 or even 30,” he said.
A resident of Izium, Sergei Gorodko, said that among the hundreds buried in individual graves, dozens of adults and children were killed in a Russian airstrike on an apartment building.
He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble “with my own hands”.
Thousands of Russian soldiers fled Izium over the weekend. There was no immediate public comment from Russia.
Dozens of bombed-out buildings in downtown Izium lie abandoned along roads covered in debris from what was one of the fiercest battles of this war, killing at least 1,000 people , according to Ukrainian officials.
On Wednesday, the city, described as a second Mariupol due to the heavy shelling it suffered, was visited by the outside world for the first time after its recapture.
Russia has repeatedly denied that it was targeting civilians or committed war crimes.
With Reuters and Associated Press